In the midst of growing national attention to mental health several organizations have started providing resources and programming specific to the target demographic most relevant to our work as UP faculty: college students. One particularly prominent organization in this realm is The Jed Foundation, started in 2000 by a philanthropist couple who lost their son (Jed) to suicide during his sophomore year of college.
Some of us at UP have become familiar with The Jed Foundation in the last few years after the 2015-2016 President’s Panel on Mental Health recommended working with the Jed “Campus Program” which they describe as “A nationwide initiative designed to guide schools through a collaborative process of developing comprehensive systems, programs and policies with customized support to build upon existing student mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention efforts.” This program involves a multi-year consultation towards improving mental health on college campuses, and UP has begun some of the initial steps in working with Jed on our campus. They estimate that over 150 colleges are participating in the program, including schools such as Notre Dame, the University of Washington, Princeton, and Georgetown, so we are in good company!
There may be points where this work directly intersects with faculty work, though much of it will involve a broader group of campus offices that work with students – ranging from the Health and Counseling Center to Public Safety. But there are also ways that The Jed Foundation might be of more direct interest to faculty and academic staff, including both specific information about “What to do if…I’m worried about someone” (such as one of our students) and their model for “a comprehensive, public health approach to promoting emotional well-being and preventing suicide and serious substance abuse.”
Their specific information about “What to do if…I’m worried about someone” includes informational resources that might help faculty and academic staff think about what to do with students of concern. How can we know when students are just bored and disengaged, or when those traits may actually be symptoms of more serious psychological distress? The short answer is that there is no easy way to know – and at UP any student that might raise those types of questions in your mind is likely worth first submitting an early alert through our own on-campus system. But it might also be helpful to know some of what The Jed Foundation identifies as “Common signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviors”:
- Talking about wanting to end it all; in person, via text or on social media
- Expressing guilt (e.g., “I’m a terrible person”) or hopelessness (e.g., “What’s the point, things will never get better”)
- Withdrawal from everyday life (e.g., no longer spending time with friends or engaging in previously enjoyable hobbies/school activities)
- Asking about or actively seeking access to means to self-harm (e.g., weapons, pills, etc.)
- Giving away personal possessions
- Changes in use of substances (alcohol and/or drug use)
Or what they identify as “additional warning signs that might indicate that a young person is suicidal”:
- Change in eating and sleeping habits
- Violent or unusually rebellious behavior; running away
- Drug or alcohol use
- Neglecting their appearance, change in their usual grooming habits
- Persistent boredom
- Change in physical health. Persistent complaints about ailments such as headaches and stomach aches
- Not tolerating praise or reward
The Jed Foundation has many other related informational resources, and links to other related resources such as relevant web-pages for the American Association of Suicidology and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Though it is worth remembering that faculty and academic staff’s main job with students of concern is to get them connected to the professional resources they need, we can also keep ourselves informed.
And it may also be helpful for faculty and academic staff to remember that promoting students well-being really does require what Jed calls a “comprehensive approach” (also see their strategic planning diagram below). Their model for colleges and universities includes components for helping students develop life skills; promoting social connectedness; identifying students at risk early; increasing help-seeking behavior; providing adequate mental health and substance abuse services; following appropriate crisis management procedures; and reducing access to potentially lethal means.
Faculty and academic staff are only one small part of this larger whole – but for the sake of our students, and for our own sake when we confront challenges in the classroom, we can take advantage of our academic brains to learn about and understand what national organizations such as The Jed Foundation already know.